Putin’s Medieval Dreams

As much of the world makes amends for social and political injustices of the past, Russia is lionizing its despots, raising statues to the worst of them. Behind this phenomenon is an ultra-nationalist brand of conservatism that seeks to take Russian politics back to the Middle Ages.

While much of the world is busy dismantling monuments to oppressors, Russians are moving in the opposite direction, erecting statues to medieval warlords who were famous for their despotism. Understanding this revival can shed light on the direction of Russia’s politics.

In October 2016, with the endorsement of Russia’s culture minister, Vladimir Medinsky, the country’s first-ever monument to Ivan the Terrible was unveiled in the city of Orel. A month later, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the leader of the ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, called for Lenin Avenue in Moscow to be renamed Ivan the Terrible Highway. And in July of this year, President Vladimir Putin christened Moscow’s own tribute to the tyrant, declaring, erroneously, that “most likely, Ivan the Terrible never killed anyone, not even his son.”

Most historians agree that Ivan lived up to his name; not only did he kill his son and other relatives, he also ordered the oprichnina, the state-led purges that terrorized Russia from 1565 to 1572. He also presided over Russia’s defeat in the Livonian War, and his misrule contributed to the Time of Troubles and the state’s devastating depopulation.

.. Joseph Stalin initiated the modern cult of Ivan the Terrible. But, since the mid-2000s, Russia’s Eurasia Party – a political movement led by the pro-fascist mystic Alexander Dugin – has moved to position Ivan as the best incarnation of an “authentic” Russian tradition: authoritarian monarchy.

Dugin’s brand of “Eurasianism” advocates the embrace of a “new Middle Ages,” where what little remains of Russian democracy is replaced by an absolute autocrat. In Dugin’s ideal future, a medieval social order would return, the empire would be restored, and the Orthodox church would assume control over culture and education.

.. Eurasianism, which was marginal in the 1990s, has gained considerable popularity in recent years by contributing to the formation of the so-called Izborsky Club, which unites the Russian far right.

.. Putin has referred to Eurasianism as an important part of Russian ideology

.. members of the Eurasia Party, who consider political terror the most effective tool of governance and call for a “new oprichnina” – a staunchly anti-Western Eurasian conservative revolution. According to Mikhail Yuriev, a member of the political council of the Eurasia Party and author of the utopian novel The Third Empire, the oprichniks should be the only political class, and they should rule by fear.

.. Cultural vocabulary is also reverting. For example, the word kholop, which means “serf,” is returning to the vernacular, a linguistic devolution that parallels a troubling rise in Russia’s modern slavery. Data from the Global Slavery Index show that more than one million Russians are currently enslaved in the construction industry, the military, agriculture, and the sex trade. Moreover, serf “owners” are also happily identifying themselves as modern-day barins.

.. Nostalgia for serfdom compliments the desire for a return to autocracy.

.. Putin’s tacit support for the Eurasian vision of a neo-medieval Russia invokes the historical memory of Stalinism. According to Dugin, “Stalin created the Soviet Empire,” and, like Ivan the Terrible, expresses “the spirit of the Soviet society and the Soviet people.” No wonder, then, that monuments to Stalin, too, are multiplying in Russian cities.

.. Neo-medievalism is rooted in nostalgia for a social order based on inequality, caste, and clan, enforced by terror.

The lionization of historical despots reflects the contemporary embrace of such pre-modern, radically anti-democratic and unjust values. For Ivan’s contemporary champions, the past is prologue.

One year later: MJ Sharp’s parents reflect

It became evident that a Congolese government translator deliberately misled MJ and Catalán because he did not translate for them part of a message saying their safety could not be guaranteed. An investigation by a U.N.-appointed international team working with the Congolese government is ongoing. The Congolese government has said militia members killed MJ and Catalán.

.. He knew when and how to ask questions and when and how to listen.

.. After building a trust relationship, the peacebuilders offered alternative ways to meet the rebels’ objectives nonviolently. In this way, the cycle of violence stopped. Talk about a revolutionary way to work.”

.. Reporters from the New York Times and NPR describe MJ sitting under a banana tree with a warlord, listening to his story, offering alternative ways of meeting his goals. Over the course of several years, MJ and his team persuaded some 1,600 rebels to lay down their weapons, which impacted some 23,000 family members. Some of those militia groups sent condolences to MJ and Catalán’s families after their deaths.

.. “Maybe we could apply [MJ’s strategy] to white supremacist groups, who also have a story to tell and are working for a goal, which is probably unachievable, but to give the respect of listening, could be a first step in resolving that conflict,” John said. “Could we do the same in the church? Instead of arguing our position, could we spend more time listening to those with whom we disagree, and so offer our respect?

.. he was shot with a shotgun.

.. According to the FBI agent who watched the film, in their final moments, MJ did not show fear, Michele said. “To the end he continued to relate on a human, relational level to his captors. I believe that even though he knew the danger he was in, he was able to stay centered and not let his fear overcome him.”

MJ was 10 days away from returning to the United States.

.. “Over the past year, the wave of violence in Kasai has claimed more than 3,000 lives and displaced an estimated 1.4 million people, with rights groups citing evidence of extrajudicial killings, rapes, torture and the use of child soldiers.”